ICQ was the big thing when I was a kid. It was one of the Internet's first live chat rooms, very popular with the kids in the early years when it was still referred to as "the Worldwide Web" and your dial-up modem took 10 minutes at minimum to connect, so you had to really want it. Every single kid in my junior high class had ICQ and squealed to each other about how exciting it was over recess.
My parents forbade me to have it. It was a rare moment of evolutionary foresight -- my parents saw just how dangerous the "Worldwide Web" could become. At the time, the primary concern was that I would connect with someone who was not the 14-year-old schoolgirl they claimed to be, a legitimate fear considering the opportunities chat rooms presented for lecherous older men. Despite their good judgment, I don't think anyone could see just how awful the Internet would become.
Sometimes I look at what teenagers do over social media and I feel a pang of loss for the simplicity of that archaic chat room. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and countless other platforms offer teens the opportunity to share information with EVERYONE. Think about that: if you stop the part of your brain that takes technology for granted, you realize that literally every single thing you post on the Internet can be revealed at one time or another for either good or evil.
You can have your privacy settings at the highest level, and there are still people who can access that information. Teenagers, who don't always have a reputation for being cautious (I was one, once upon a time, so I know), don't always realize what digital eternity can mean for them.
The Internet is the new weapon of choice. Worse still, anyone can see it and anyone can participate in it.
Yes, we can share anything now and anyone can see it. This has opened the portal to a new dimension of evil, including (but by no means limited to): body shaming, bullying, psychological torture, self-worth issues, mental illness, sex crimes (including revenge porn), and almost every other form of disturbing behaviour you can think of. I shudder at what a lot of mothers and fathers must be going through with their teen daughters right now until I start thinking about what might be waiting for me around the corner with my own future children.
Everyone is braver over Mother Internet. Although this encourages some people to take a stand and speak out against bad behaviours, it also encourages people to pull off their masks and reveal the monster that society has cleverly disguised. People who would normally be too scared to say something face-to-face are more than happy to offer their violent opinions over social media. The click of a button can ruin a life. This power has revealed an inhuman deficiency that is far worse than any of the mental illnesses we have been struggling to understand.
All you need to do is read the paper. Since the rise of social media and widespread information, there have been enough suicides to make you feel ill. They call it cyberbullying now, and it has become a new avenue to psychologically destroy teens that are struggling with mental illness online. From the sex crime surrounding Raetaeh Parsons to the chilling harassment of Amanda Todd, the Internet is the new weapon of choice. Worse still, anyone can see it and anyone can participate in it.
By talking about the dangers of social media and Internet use, we can also teach every generation how to speak up while still saying safe.
We live in a society right now where we can all just tell anyone what we think by pushing a button. Although the advantages of this are obvious, the disadvantages can be just as strong. Not only do we have a generation that is finally able to talk about mental illness, but we also have an entire generation of degenerates bullying those prompting the conversation, demonstrating behaviour that is at at its best delinquent, and at its worst, sociopathic. And in a turn of "just when you thought it couldn't get worse," we have a whole new group of non-doctors trying to diagnose mental illness from the appearance of a single selfie. Nearly everyone wants to get in the action of competing for top keyboard warrior.
Everyone is struggling and the cure isn't going to come from a Google suggestion. The conversations we are having now are important, especially when talking to teens about Internet use. For the teens that struggle with mental illness, however, this conversation is potentially life saving. No one has the right to tell you who you are and what your illness means to you, even if they do have a fancy degree from Insert-High Brow-University-Name-Here. The best way to support those that struggle is to inform and show compassion.
I'm not a doctor, but I do know that the Internet is not what it used to be. Most teenagers these days would laugh at Ye Olde Chat Rooms, but it was a simpler time. We didn't have so much power back then. But a greater power demands a greater responsibility, and we need to teach our teens to rise to the occasion. By talking about the dangers of social media and Internet use, we can also teach every generation how to speak up while still saying safe. The mind is one of our greatest assets, and it's time that we teach each other how to best protect it.
If you are a teen who is dealing with mental illness or being harassed online, seek help right away. Foundations like Kids Help Phone are available 24/7 to offer support to those who need it.
If you or someone you know is at risk please contact your nearest Crisis Centre or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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